Tino's pinstripe pride still shows
PHOENIX - Hanging around in their skivvies, waiting for their own future to take root, the St. Louis Cardinals had one eye glued to the clubhouse TVs, where the Yankees were doing their usual October dance, and the other on miniature video players, where Randy Johnson was being digitally dissected.
Except Tino Martinez. He couldn't help himself. The glances were meant to be furtive, discreet. There had been a time earlier in the season when Martinez couldn't tear himself away from Yankee broadcasts. His new teammates would raz him, beg him to let it go. But how does one scrub away six years of pinstripes? They might as well have been tattoos inked across his chest.
"He tries not to be obvious. But everybody was keeping an eye on him to see what he's gonna do when they score or something. It's hard to let go any time you leave a team, but it was probably harder for Tino because of all the success he had as a Yankee," said pitcher Rick White who, in the space of 24 months, was a Met, then a Rockie, now a Cardinal.
Sometimes Martinez would speak casually about The Yankee Way, and sometimes he sounded like a grumpy old man moaning about the good ol' days when he walked uphill in a snowstorm just to reach the batter's box. The Cardinals would shout him down, tell him he no longer had to drink George Steinbrenner's Kool-Aid, and before long the stories of Zim's lucky head and Jeter's magic bat had been replaced by tales of Tony LaRussa's intensity and Jim Edmonds' outfield stunts.
But there were moments when Martinez would slip, when he'd say "we" meaning "the Yankees," and he'd catch himself and apologize. "It happened a few times. More than a few times, I guess," said Martinez. "I'd tell myself, 'Whoa, I'm a Cardinal.'"
The defining moment didn't arrive until St. Louis clinched a postseason berth, when Edmonds popped a cork, pointed the champagne bottle at Darryl Kile's jersey and covered it in bubbly. Martinez's eyes stung, and not from liquor. It hit him in the gut: This was where he was meant to be.
"Sure, I was upset," said Martinez, who signed with the Cards after he didn't receive a contract offer from the Yankees in the offseason. "Wouldn't you be? I loved playing in New York. But you get over it. I want to see them make it back to the World Series, and I want to be on the other side when they do."
Late Tuesday night, Game 1 of the NLDS, top of the third, Martinez was in the visitors' dugout here when Mystique and Aura began to shimmy in the Bronx. The mellow Arizona crowd groaned; Martinez didn't even have to peer at the Jumbotron. Intuitively, he felt the power of Bernie Williams' three-run homer.
"They always make something happen, don't they?" said Martinez, with a grin that could be interpreted as both proud and wry.
Not so long ago, Martinez had his own big moments with the Yankees - that two out, two-run homer off Arizona's Byung-Hyun Kim in Game 4 of last year's World Series, the three-run homer in Game 5 of the ALDS against Seattle - but now Jason Giambi patrols his old turf, and it's time to carve new memories.
LaRussa showed great faith in Martinez by starting him and fellow lefties Edmonds and Fernando Vina on Monday against the indomitable Randy Johnson. Johnson's fastball barely flirted with 95 mph, his slider was curiously flat, balls kept bouncing past him, whizzing by him, putting all the pressure on Curt Schilling in Game 2 today. Edmonds was 3-for-4, Vina was on base three times and scored twice, and the Cardinals scored more runs in this 12-2 laugher than they did in the entire five-game series with Arizona last year.
St. Louis whipped Johnson with a mixture of home runs, sac flies and hard singles up the gut. Martinez didn't have much success (0-for-4, a walk, a run scored) but he knew what needed to be done: In the fourth inning, after Albert Pujols had opened with a triple and Scott Rolen creamed Johnson's next pitch into the BOB's far seats, Edgar Renteria singled, then stole second. Martinez moved him to third on a groundout, and Renteria scored on the next at-bat, when Mike Matheny singled to left.
Far away in the Bronx, confetti filled the sky; Mariano Rivera had just sealed the deal. Here in the desert, it was 5-2 Cardinals and the hometown crowd, fat on success that came so quickly, and at the expense of the Yankees, had gone numb.
What a different sound, thought Martinez, than last November, when the ballpark speakers mocked the visitors with obnoxious, broken strains of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York." Through the prism of eight postseasons, Martinez has heard and seen most everything, and knows there are no impossibles.
The Yankees can lose in the bottom of the ninth, Randy Johnson, best pitcher in the NL, can be beaten. Even pinstripes fade, when they're covered in Cardinal red.